March 4, 2024

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Gov. Kelly wants another 30-day COVID emergency declaration

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Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly asked the Legislative Coordinating Council to extend the COVID emergency declaration for another 30 days. Kelly’s administration warned members of the LCC that the federal government could turn off the cash spigot for COVID-related spending if the emergency declaration expires.

“Eligibility for federal assistance may be at jeopardy,” Maj. Gen. David Weishaar, the adjutant general, LCC members during a Wednesday meeting.

But Weishaar’s statement is contradicted by at least two federal memos.  This Memorandum to Extend Federal Support to Governors’ Use of the National Guard to Respond to COVID-19 and to Increase Reimbursement and Other Assistance Provided to States signed by President Biden on January 21 seems to assure states that funding for National Guard services and FEMA assistance will continue.

And an April 7 memo from Congressional Research Service says, “The termination of a state emergency declaration does not directly impact the availability of Stafford Act assistance for the COVID-19 pandemic administered by FEMA.”

Additionally, Weishaar has not produced documentation that says federal funding only goes to states with an emergency declaration.

Emergency declaration approval needed from LCC

Thanks to recent changes to the Kansas Emergency Management Act, Kelly must seek approval from the LCC in order to extend her emergency powers. Legislative leaders make up the LCC. The council includes six Republicans and two Democrats. Kelly sent a letter to the LCC making the formal extension request this week. 

The current emergency declaration is set to expire on May 28, but the majority Republican LCC seemed loath to continue the emergency.

“I know Kansans are eager to put the pandemic behind us, so am I, but we can’t put the pandemic behind us by closing our eyes and trying to convince ourselves that it’s all over,” Kelly’s letter reads.

The LCC debated the request on Wednesday, the 440th day of the Kansas public health emergency. Health officials reported 80 new cases of COVID in Kansas that day. Meanwhile, 87% of all ventilators in the state are available, and 46% of intensive care unit hospital beds are open. Weekly visits to emergency rooms for COVID and flu are flatlined. More than 41% of Kansans received at least one dose of COVID vaccine.

Weishaar said extending the emergency allows the state to continue distributing personal protective equipment, transporting test samples, and supporting mobile vaccination clinics. 

“I would ask for your favorable consideration in extending this declaration so we can continue to leverage every resource we have available,” Weishaar told the LCC.

However, many of the LCC members appeared leery of continuing the emergency. Kansas House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, asked if the administration is winding down efforts.

Will Lawrence, Kelly’s chief of staff, said they’re looking for ways to start to wind things down.

“In this scenario, there really is no ability to wind this down,” he said. “It needs to continue…Things are getting better, but there’s still a lot of work going on.”

A handful of other states, including neighboring Oklahoma, allowed their emergency declarations to expire without losing federal funding. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican,  announced an end to the emergency on May 4.

“Because Oklahomans used personal responsibility to protect themselves, their families and our most vulnerable, the data shows COVID-19 is no longer an emergency,” Stitt said when the state’s emergency declaration expired.

The Sooner state reported 142 new COVID cases on the day the declaration expired. Alaska’s emergency declaration ended almost a week before Oklahoma’s on April 30.

“Alaska is in the recovery phase where an emergency declaration is no longer necessary,” Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican,  said as his emergency orders ended. “Our systems are fully functioning with vaccine distribution, adequate testing, and health care capacity.”

In Kansas, however, the emergency continues through at least May 28. Members of the LCC will consider extending the emergency order during a meeting on Friday.

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